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Innovative Project More Than Doubles Incomes for Rwandan Women Farmers

New brand café opened as part of women’s economic development initiative

Café offers training sessions led by female entrepreneurs; net proceeds fund additional training for female farmers

What happens when coffee drinkers start asking questions about coffee growers? That’s one of the queries driving Question Coffee, a new brand that launched last month challenging consumers to think about the story behind the coffee they buy.

Question Coffee is committed to changing lives at origin at scale through an innovative model of profit sharing with coffee farmers. Under a new program supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies called Premium Sharing Rewards, women coffee farmers receive an above-market price for the purchase of their green coffee, then receive additional value from the roasted product that pays for trainings, as well as household tools and assets the farmers choose that improve their quality of life. The trainings and the additional incentives result in farmers better understanding how to produce quality coffee and increase their yields, and in turn receIving higher prices—farmers in the program increased their monthly incomes an average of 111%, from $12.03 to $25.41. The women speak about the Question Coffee program in three simple words: “Quality. Transparency. Rewards.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies has been investing in women’s economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2008. Working with partners including government and Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers, the foundation and partners provide a comprehensive training program that allows participants to generate income while becoming self-sufficient, helping to strengthen their families and communities. To date the program has resulted in the training of over 146,000 women (4,000 of them coffee farmers) in rights, literacy, health, and vocational skills including hospitality, brickmaking, beekeeping, and coffee farming and exporting.

Question Coffee has now launched an additional tool for strengthening women farmers with last week’s opening of the Question Coffee Cafe in Kigali, Rwanda. The cafe showcases some of Rwanda’s best coffee—and the women farmers who produce it. Net proceeds from sales at the cafe fund training for these farmers. Some of this training will take place at the cafe—in addition to serving as a retail location, the Question Coffee cafe is also a training center where participating farmers can receive coffee education such as barista and cupping skills.

Question Coffee is a collaborative coffee brand in which Sustainable Harvest, the largest importer of fair trade organic coffee in the United States, partners with stakeholders committed to fostering sustainable supply chains. To mark the opening of the Question Coffee Cafe in Rwanda, Alexandra LittleJohn and Devorah Fralach—staff members of San Francisco-area Equator Coffees & Teas, one of Question Coffee’s partner roasters—traveled to Kigali to provide barista training to Rwandan farmers and also worked the cafe’s grand opening to serve the community directly.

In Portland, Question Coffee is available at retailer New Seasons Market. Chris Tjersland, Partner Brands Development Manager for New Seasons, traveled to Kigali to see firsthand the work that Question Coffee is doing with farmers. Tjersland, along with LittleJohn and Fralach of Equator, also took part in Let’s Talk Coffee Best of Rwanda, a conference Question Coffee sponsored that brings together the coffee supply chain.

Question Coffee currently works with 4,000 smallholder farmers in Rwanda, and the brand will soon expand both within Rwanda and to coffee-producing countries in Latin America. As it broadens its reach at origin, Question Coffee is also partnering with additional roasters: Upcoming collaborators will include Toronto’s Reunion Island Coffee, San Diego’s Cafe Moto, Portland’s Nossa Familia Coffee, and Pasadena, Calif.’s Jones Coffee.